Thailand announces biggest visa reforms in decades: Longer stays, more countries, and a boost for digital nomads

Tourists arriving at Suvarnabhumi Airport. File photo

Thailand has unveiled its most significant visa reform in decades, aiming to boost tourism and stimulate the economy.

The Cabinet has approved measures to increase the number of visa-free countries from 57 to 93. The reform is expected to generate between 800 billion to 1 trillion baht in return.

Highlights of the plan include extending visa exemption stays to 60 days, expanding the Visa on Arrival list, introducing a new Destination Thailand Visa (DTV) for work and tourism, and improving visa conditions for foreign students and retirees. Additionally, a new Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system will be launched in 2025 to streamline entry for visitors from visa-exempt countries.

Mr. Chai Wacharonke, Spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office, announced the Cabinet’s new measures and guidelines for visas and tourism promotion aimed at stimulating the domestic economy. This initiative is a response to prolonged economic stagnation, GDP growth below the country’s potential, and rising public debt.

The Cabinet has determined that accelerating tourism policies is essential for generating new income for citizens. These policies are viewed as the quickest solution for addressing short-term economic issues. The government aims to increase tourism revenue to at least 3 trillion baht by the end of 2024.

To achieve this goal, Mr. Chai explained that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with relevant agencies, has proposed several proactive measures to attract foreign tourists. The government is advancing these initiatives rapidly, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs outlining a three-phase plan:

Short-term: Countries eligible for visa exemption will be able to stay in Thailand for up to 60 days for tourism, business contacts, and short-term work. The number of countries will increase from 57 to 93, including Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, and others.

Additionally, the list of countries eligible for Visa on Arrival (VOA) will be expanded from 19 to 31 countries, including Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Bhutan, Bolivia, China, Costa Rica, Cyprus, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malta, Mexico, Namibia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, and others.

Mr. Chai further stated that, in addition, a new visa category, the Destination Thailand Visa (DTV), will be introduced for foreigners wishing to stay in Thailand for work and tourism simultaneously (workcation). The qualifications and benefits are as follows:

  1. Foreigners wishing to stay for long-term tourism and remote work, including high-skilled individuals (foreign talent) and freelancers (digital nomads/freelancers), or those wishing to engage in other activities such as learning Muay Thai and martial arts, cooking classes, sports training, healthcare, training, seminars, and art and music exhibitions.
  2. Dependents of the foreigners mentioned in point 1, including legal spouses and children under 20 years old.
  3. Foreigners must have financial proof or financial support evidence for their travel or a guarantor with a minimum amount of 500,000 baht throughout their stay in Thailand.
  4. Benefits include receiving the DTV, allowing a stay in Thailand for up to 180 days per visit, with a visa fee of 10,000 baht. The visa is valid for five years and can be extended once for up to 180 days by paying an additional 10,000 baht. The visa type can be changed within the country, but the original visa will be terminated.

Mr. Chai mentioned that the Cabinet also approved improvements to the rights of foreign students pursuing undergraduate and higher degrees with a Non-Immigrant Visa code ED. This is to facilitate foreign students currently studying or about to graduate from higher education institutions in Thailand, attracting skilled individuals into the country’s labor market. The stay in Thailand after graduation can be extended for one year to find a job, travel, or engage in other activities, with a certification letter from the relevant agency under the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research, and Innovation.

Mr. Chai Wacharonke, Spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office. File photo

Mr. Chai said that the medium-term measures (comprising three measures to be implemented from September to December 2024) include:

  1. Grouping and reducing the codes for Non-Immigrant visas from the original 17 codes to 7 codes, which will start in September 2024.
  2. Adjust criteria and conditions for obtaining long-term stay visas for elderly individuals who wish to spend their retirement in Thailand. This will be implemented by September 2024.
  3. Reduce health insurance requirements for Non-Immigrant visas code 0-A from the previous amount of 3,000,000 baht to pre-COVID-19 levels of 40,000 baht for outpatient care and 400,000 baht for inpatient care. Additionally, expand the e-Visa service from the current 47 embassies/consulates to 94 locations, covering all embassies, consulates, and Thai trade and economic offices worldwide by December 2024.

As for the long-term measures, starting in full by June 2025, an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system will be developed for individuals from visa-exempt countries. This will incorporate technology and innovation to enhance the efficiency of screening foreigners by integrating data with the Immigration Bureau.

“The facilitation measures to boost tourism will result in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs losing approximately 12.3 billion baht in annual revenue. Although this is a significant amount, the expected returns from increased tourism are estimated to be between 800 billion to 1 trillion baht, which the Cabinet has approved,” said Mr. Chai.